Alcohol Use and Surgery

How alcohol interferes with surgery and anesthesia

  • Alcohol affects the same body systems as anesthesia. It can suppress breathing, heart rate, and blood circulation
  • Alcohol increases your risk of nausea, vomiting, and aspiration (inhaling vomit into your lungs)
  • Alcohol interferes with your body's ability to make clots. This could lead to higher blood loss than would normally be expected with surgery. This effect is greater if you already take blood-thinning medications.
  • Drinking alcohol increases your risk of infection at your surgical site, in your lungs, and in the urinary tract.
  • Alcohol use is an independent risk factor for acute confusion (delirium) following surgery.

We know it can be difficult to talk about alcohol or other substance use but the most important thing you can do is be open and honest with your care team about your health, including any use of alcohol. The information provided is kept private and shared only with those directly caring for you who need to know.

If you occasionally have an alcoholic drink:

  • It is recommended that you abstain for at least four weeks prior to surgery.
  • Alcohol can delay healing and increases the chances of your surgical site becoming infected.

If you drink more than three alcoholic drinks a day or if you binge drink:

  • Your risk of having a longer hospital stay and more complications is much higher.
  • Talk with your primary care provider about how to safely decrease your alcohol intake as soon as you know you may need surgery.
  • Chronic heavy drinking can cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, can interfere with organ systems in the surgical period, and can cause seizures and falls.
  • Be honest with your surgeon and anesthesiologist about how much you drink. We are not here to judge; we want to help you have a safe surgery and a good recovery.
  • If you have experienced withdrawal symptoms in the past, or if you feel you cannot safely stop on your own, discuss with your health care provider the need for an alcohol withdrawal treatment plan prior to surgery. Withdrawal symptoms include tremors, upset stomach, sweating, increased blood pressure, anxiety, delirium, hallucinations, and seizures.

At a minimum, it is advisable to not consume alcoholic beverages within 24 hours before, or after, surgery.